By the standards of the times in 1816, Sheerness Dockyard workers were poorly paid, they struggled to buy basic items to feed and clothe their families. High Street shops proved too costly, and this resulted in a small group of dockyard employees gathering together to start the very first cooperative movement to provide cheap foodstuffs to dockyard families living on the Isle of Sheppey. The objectives of Sheerness Economical Society were:
“The society established this twenty-first day of November in the year one thousand eight hundred and sixteen, by the officers and workmen of His Majesty’s Dockyard, Ordnance and New Work, at Sheerness in the Isle of Sheppey, in the county of Kent for obtaining for themselves and families, a supply of wheaten bread and flour, and butcher’s meat, shall henceforth be nominated the Economical Society.”
The bread, flour, meat and later fresh water were distributed to the dockyard workers via carts that were pushed around the town after the goods were brought by barge to the dockyard. After three years working with the Cooperative Society, the Economical Society merged with them to form the Sheerness Economical Co-Op Ltd. The town of Sheerness soon has a bakery, butchers, ladies wear shop, gents outfitters, dairy, shoe shop, café, tobacconist and grocery stores with Richmond Street, Bluetown, Minster and Queenborough having shops also. The very first shop to be rented by the group was 97 High Street, Sheerness, a small weather-board Grade II listed building. Their tenancy started on 30th January 1850. The shop still stands today, largely unnoticed by the passing shoppers.
As trade increased more substantial premises were sought out and the small shop welcomed a new tenant and became Chittick’s Fried-Fish shop - October 1892 saw a small fire at the rear of the shop, started accidentally when the pan that the fish was fried in overturned, luckily the fire was quickly contained and extinguished. The shop has also been used by a painting and decorating retailers, a butchers originally owned by the British and Argentine and then by the Eastman’s Family Butcher, a financial services company and now a mortgage brokers.